To be honest, I did not grow up with my Mother using a whole lot of fresh herbs in her cooking. She did grow dill, which she used in pickling, curly leaf parsley and some mint, but that was about it. I discovered a whole new world the first time I used fresh oregano and basil in homemade tomato sauce and the first time I used fresh thyme I swore the dry, store-bought version would never again pass my lips. I began growing my own herbs in pots, which I carted from apartment to condo to house. I had my first rosemary plant for almost 10 years, finally bequeathing it to a friend when a long-distance move (and the fact that it was a bushy 4 feet tall) kept it a Lowcountry local.
In Hilton Head Island the wonderfully temperate weather makes for some awesome herb growing conditions, especially if you go the container route and have a sunny spot indoors for the few times tender plants should be protected from cold. And when some plants have nearly completed their growing cycle, I dry or freeze the leaves or blooms. With basil, for instance, I use the woody stalks in my smoker and with rosemary I prune the thicker stems and use them as skewers for grilling shrimp or soft veggies like cherry tomatoes.
I’ve always felt that cooking with fresh herbs makes such a difference in the food I make at home, and I love being able to walk out to the garden and pick them right off the stem. I’ve always also thought that it should be easy to bring that same freshness to prepared food. In a recent post I introduced Daphne Frazier and her incredible soups (Gourmet Soups by Daphne) and today I am happy to highlight another local Hilton Head Island purveyor of delicious wholesome herb laden fare, Isa’s Gourmet Cooking.
Isabel Hicks is a self-taught cook who has traveled the world with her family landing in
Hilton Head Island about fifteen years ago. Originally from Puerto Rico, Isa most recently taught elementary and middle school Spanish before deciding, as she says, “to follow her passion” and start her own business. Having been taught traditional cooking methods by her Grandmother and developing a love of gardening with her landscape-architect husband, Isabel spent many years perfecting her recipes for pestos and empanadas, sharing the bounty with lucky friends and relatives. Now we’re the lucky ones – you can purchase her delightful creations simply by stopping by her booth at either the Hilton Head Island Farmers Market (Fridays, 8:30 – 1pm ) or the Bluffton Farmers Market (Thursdays 2-7 pm). You can also contact her via email or phone (843-290-0317). She is happy to deliver to any location in Hilton Head Island or Bluffton.
Isabel’s recipes evoke a real Latin flavor, although she told me, “I’ve lived all over the world so I have many culinary influences. My recipes emphasize the best in true Hispanic food preparation techniques so my dishes are lean, light and fresh. I use locally grown, in-season produce and products which give the best flavors.” Isabel sells nine types of empanadas, from the savory Caribbean Beef to the sweet Aromatic Peach, which sounds about right for August in the Lowcountry! Love those South Carolina peaches! Besides the empanadas and pestos she also offers cakes including the deliciously moist and unique “Can’t Believe It’s Spinach”. My 3-year old daughter and I are looking forward to giving this a taste next time Isabel. In the meantime, keep rocking the herbs and enjoys the Isabel’s recipe for Garden Pesto Salad using her Basil Pesto.
Garden Pesto Salad: Isa’s Gourmet Cooking
- 1-pound bowties
- 1 ½ tablespoons salt
- 4 quarts water
- 1 cup Isa‘s Basil Pesto
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
- ½ cup crumbled Feta cheese
- 3 tomatoes
- ½ cup fresh basil leaves
Cook pasta and drain. Stir in the Pesto and toss well to combine, add ground pepper and Parmesan cheese. Dice tomatoes and fresh basil. Add to pasta with the Feta cheese. Serve immediately for a warm salad or refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours for a cold salad. Makes 4 main course portions.